Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers hopeful for playoff push

Call them delusional if you want, but members of the Panthers say their playoff hopes aren’t over yet.

Mathematically, they are obviously right. Florida still has 54 games left in the season so there are plenty of points available over the next four-plus months.

Reality, however, is a different story.

The Panthers entered Wednesday 12 points back of the final postseason slot in the Eastern Conference. That’s a whole lot of points to make up for a team that has yet to put together a single three-game winning streak this season.

Florida is, however, in a three-game slide.

“You have to look at the now, live in the now,” interim coach Peter Horachek said. “We try to live today and keep them understanding that [Thursday’s] game against Winnipeg is the most important one. If you keep them in the short-term thought process, the long-term will take care of itself.

“Do the right thing and win [Thursday]. Then you win a couple more games and you really are paying attention to where you’re at.”

According to research by The Hockey News, only a handful of teams out of a playoff position by Thanksgiving has made it to the postseason since 2001-02. San Jose was nine points out of a playoff spot on Thanksgiving in 2005 and had a huge push to make it. That nine point Turkey Day deficit is the largest to be made up since 2001-02.

Florida was 11 points back last Thursday.

“It’s going to be tough to do, but that’s what we’re aiming for,” general manager Dale Tallon said. “We have to come to work every day with our lunch pails and climb that ladder. We have to try and get better every day, get the most out of what we have here. It’s not easy. I’m frustrated as hell but we’re going to fix it.”

Defenseman Mike Weaver and winger Brad Boyes were part of a St. Louis team that won 19 of its final 28 games in 2008-09 to slip into the playoffs.

“We were in last place in January and made it,” Weaver said. “Nothing is out of reach.”

Weaver and his teammates see the standings board every day. They see the gap widening. Weaver, who has missed the playoffs in three of his first four seasons with the Panthers, doesn’t want another long offseason.

“This is frustrating, but we have to concentrate on the little things because it adds up to the big picture to get us where we want to be,” Weaver said. “Everyone knows their job and that’s to get on the ice and win games. Nothing has changed.”

Talking playoffs and the Panthers sounds odd considering Florida has the second-fewest points in the entire league — after finishing dead last in 2013.

Tallon said he’s not in tank mode although any moves to improve the current team will not be made with Florida’s young core.

“I’m not happy, obviously, but I’m not going to panic,” Tallon said. “I’m disappointed. The effort is better but we’re not getting the results. Guys are fighting it, don’t have a lot of confidence. We need something to go our way.”

Barkov staying put

Center Aleksander Barkov won’t play in the world junior tournament which starts later this month.

Tallon said he has never considered loaning the 18-year-old, who he selected with the second overall pick last June, to Finland for the games.

“There’s no way he’s going anywhere but here,” Tallon said. “We have to let him grow. He’s a big part of our future and our present.”

Attendance woes

The Panthers had their smallest announced attendance in six seasons Tuesday against Ottawa.

An estimated 500 fans were in the building for warmups. Approximately 8,000 watched the game in an arena that holds close to 20,000.

Florida’s official announced attendance of 10,074 was just a handful more than reported for a Halloween game in 2008 against Carolina.

“In Florida, if you have a good team, people will come,” Weaver said. “We’re not winning at home right now. Now is the time to move forward.”

This and that

• Forward

Tomas Kopecky

(elbow) is close to returning to the lineup after going through Wednesday’s full practice.

• Benched defenseman

Dmitry Kulikov

is expected to return to the lineup Thursday against Winnipeg.